Friday, August 15, 2014

Riffing on “Sixty-nine Year after the War, Military Songs Are the Rage Again; CDs and Books One after Another, Even Anime”

Robert Dujarric alerts me to an (online-only?) Asahi article on Japanese pop culture entitled “Sixty-nine Year after the War, Military Songs Are the Rage Again; CDs and Books One after Another, Even Anime” (my translation). Specifically, he sent me a link to the image of a “mook,” Japanese-English for a magazine-book hybrid, on military songs with a bonus CD. Actually, this is not the first time that post-war pop culture featured a heavy dose of all things military. In fact, the 1960 saw a big surge in WW II manga—the most popular military manga starred ace pilots for an obvious reason—and magazines, while Combat, an  American series featuring US soldiers fighting Nazis (and dubbed in Japanese), was a major hit on primetime TV. Which got me to reminiscing. The following is an edited version of the email that I sent Robert in response.

Growing up, the old military songs, some of them WW II products, were a staple of Japanese pop culture. Later, they would show up on the karaoke song sheets. The two that stand out in my mind are the 軍艦マーチ (Rising Sun flag alert for liberal visitors), once played all day long in seemingly every pachinko parlor until closing time, when Auld Lang Syne, edited for Japanese ears, would be aired (most public establishments including schools aired the tune on the PA system, with the desired Pavlovian effect), and 戦友 (RSFA), actually a dirge that the imperial army tried to stamp out during WW II, to no avail. 海ゆかば (RSFA), reminiscent of the national anthem君が代 (no RSFA) because of its distinctly Japanese scale and lyrics from classic Japanese poetry written from the perspective of the subjects of the liege/emperor, is also notable for remaining in circulation as a requiem. There are, of course, more combative songs that were hugely popular, as any nativist black vans will remind you in passing. People remembered the war differently, evidently, depending on their social backgrounds, temperaments and actual experiences in no particular order that I am competent to identify.

On a more recent note, in 1982, I was a very junior member of the (then) MITI team that staged a Small and Medium Enterprises Ministers' Conference in Osaka. MITI Minister Sadanori "Teisuoku" Yamanaka hosted a dinner (or two) for the visiting dignitaries, at which the Indonesian representative (I don't remember if he was actually a cabinet minister) sang a Japanese military song in a karaoke session, which he'd apparently learned during the WW II occupation. (It was obviously an informal dinner.) Minister Yamanaka for his part entertained his guests with a sword dance, complete with Japanese katana. (There was obviously a lot of alcohol involved.) I do not believe that there was a Chinese representantive; I do not know if South Korea was represented (not that Japan fought a war with Korea, but still). In any case, I was not nearly important enough to attend these dinners, so this is all hearsay.

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